Preface to The Art of True Relations

By Daisaku Ikeda

“Poet, speak not with the intellect alone but with the ‘flower of the mind’”—such was the cry of the great nineteenth-century American poet and thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson, a flag bearer for the revival of humanity.

There has long been a call for the restoration in our world of the power of language, the power of literature, and the power of poetry. This is, at the same time, a warning of the underlying threat to civilization posed by the degeneration of heart-to-heart ties linking one individual to another. How, then, can we transform language from a meaningless, empty shell to the rich nourishment that sustains life, from being degraded as a dangerous tool for the exploitation of others into a powerful source for advancing into the future, filled with hope?

Sarah Ann Wider, former president of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society, has been engaged in an earnest exploration of the essential question, “What enables us to lead fully and truly human lives?” She has been carrying on a dialogue, transcending the ages, with the thinkers who led the American Renaissance, deeply pondering their message.

I first met Dr. Wider in the summer of 2006. Her sincere character and profound integrity as a person shone brightly in each word she exchanged with me. My wife was moved to learn that the blue suit that Dr. Wider wore that day was a memento from her mother, Mary Wider. I was also touched when, later, Dr. Wider presented me with some of her mother’s favorite books.

Dr. Wider told me that her mother read Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” when she was in high school, which helped her decide not to be pressed into the conventional patterns imposed on women by society at that time but to follow her own chosen path through life. Motivated by her wish to be of use to a friend suffering from a serious illness, Mary Wider overcame numerous difficulties to enter one of the best nursing schools in the country. Through her devoted care, she helped her friend to live a longer life and went on to give the spiritual gift of hope and courage to many others who were ill.

In her later years, Dr. Wider also told me, her mother was gratified that her daughter chose Emerson as the focus of her academic career. I cannot help but feel that Dr. Wider and her mother are linked by the noble ideals voiced by Emerson—his unflagging belief in the infinite possibility of the individual and the supreme worth and dignity of our inner beings.

I have fond memories of the great spiritual sustenance and encouragement I received from the writings of Emerson and Walt Whitman in my youth. In those days, having accepted as my personal credo the impassioned wish of my mentor, second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda, to rid the world of misery, I was engaged in an arduous daily struggle for peace based on the Buddhist teachings.

Serendipitously, the date July 3, when I first met Dr. Wider in 2006, is the same date that President Toda was released from prison in 1945, after being incarcerated for two years for his conscientious resistance to the dictates of the militaristic Japanese authorities. It is also the date that, twelve years later, in 1957, I was arrested on false charges in the midst of my efforts to expand our movement for the people’s welfare.

As long as people inherit and carry on noble ideals, these ideals will survive undimmed for eternity, eventually bringing glorious flowers into bloom and bearing fruit that stands as irrefutable proof in each person’s life.

In July 2006, to commemorate Mary Wider, we planted a cherry tree—a favorite of my mentor—in the Makiguchi Memorial Garden adjacent to Soka University of Japan. Over the years, the tree has grown and bloomed beautifully, watching warmly over the university students as they have pursued their path of learning.

The British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, considering humanity’s future, called for a new field of learning—a field that would employ the human intellect for good rather than evil, that would promote a way of life recognizing the equal worth and dignity of self and others. Based on his hopes for these “new humanities,” Dr. Toynbee asked, “Are not these ‘new humanities’ likely to minister far more effectively than science and technology ever can to Man’s present need to save himself from himself?” I am convinced that this remains just as urgent an issue today as it was when these words were written more than four decades ago.

In our dialogue, focusing on the central theme of the revival of the poetic spirit and the restoration of the power of language, Dr. Wider and I explored many diverse subjects, including youth, women, friendship, art, literature, and the role of the university, tackling topics that Toynbee identified as the tug of war in education—the struggle between the often conflicting demands of national and economic interests on the one hand and individual and humanitarian interests on the other; between science and technology on the one hand and the humanities and arts on the other.

In our discussions, Dr. Wider noted that it is too easy to forget our responsibility to others when we’re involved in an abstract quest for knowledge. . . . Then we start to neglect so much else in our lives. . . . When individualism is put in the service of materialism, we distort the human being into a small-minded thinker who values acquisition over relation and self-selection over integral connection.

These ideas are profoundly consonant with the convictions I have held for many long years. I feel a special empathy with the ethos underlying Dr. Wider’s observations and her profoundly compassionate spirit and deeply held belief as an educator in the need to dispel the dark clouds casting a pall over the lives of youth today. This is an unshakable pillar in Dr. Wider’s view of education—a philosophy that stands as the epitome and culmination of the educational praxis in which she has so passionately engaged.

What can be done to prevent students from being swept away by the tide of the times and losing sight of their true selves? What kind of education can help them believe in their own potential and develop it to the fullest? All her ideas and actions derive from her wish for the happiness of each individual.

This desire is certainly the key to resolving the tug of war in education that Toynbee described. Wishing for the happiness of each individual and acting sincerely on this purpose—these qualities are desirable not only in education but in every area of our lives.

At the time of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami in Japan’s Tohoku region, Dr. Wider was quick to send a message. She asked what connects and strengthens us when we feel completely overwhelmed by the devastation around us, when it seems that everything is broken to pieces and torn apart. Words of encouragement was her answer. From far-away America, Dr. Wider felt the profound sadness of those in the affected areas and, reflecting on the grief she felt at her mother’s death and her experience recovering from it, sent her sincere condolences and encouragement to all concerned.

When she visited Japan in October 2012, she traveled to Sendai, Ishinomaki, and Onagawa, sympathetically listening to the victims’ stories and delivering lectures to ignite the torch of hope and courage in their hearts. She said that to communicate meaningfully with those who have experienced unbearable grief in the depths of their beings, our words must contain a power that transcends mere words. She concluded:

In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, the poetic heart responds again and again, from those who had suffered so much and from those who were suffering in deep sympathy. If we allow that heart its full power, there is no wasteland that cannot be transformed.

This sincere, heartfelt encouragement brought tears of deep feeling and empathy, and bright smiles of hope to the faces of many people. In order for Tohoku to shine even more brightly as a symbol of revival in the new century, I hope, along with Dr. Wider, that it will powerfully radiate this beautiful poetic heart.

It is also my sincere wish that this book will contribute to the rising tide of humanistic education, encouraging the “young Emersons” of our time to polish their minds and character for the sake of others, society, and the world.

With undying friendship on this seventh anniversary of the July 3 on which I first met Dr. Wider,

Daisaku Ikeda

 

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